HSBC Champions 2016
Round 4 - Hideki Matsuyama coasts to 7 shot win
October 31, 2016
Hideki Matsuyama waved to a cheering crowd from the top balcony of a corporate suite over the 18th green at Sheshan International, where moments earlier he finished up a thorough beating of a world-class field in the HSBC Champions.
He never felt higher. His game never felt better.
And the 24-year-old Japanese star can only hope that he's just getting started.
Matsuyama never gave anyone a chance Sunday, closing with a 6-under 66 for a seven-shot victory that made him the first Asian to win a World Golf Championships event since the series began in 1999.
And it was only fitting that he won at the event billed as ''Asia's major.''
''He was brilliant,'' said defending champion Russell Knox, who played in the last group and was along for the ride. ''No weaknesses the last two days. He drove the ball well and far, and his iron play was very good. And he made it look very easy.''
The only trouble came when it no longer mattered. Matsuyama realized that one last birdie would give him 30 for the week, so he went for the green on the par-5 18th and his shot bounced out of a bush and tumbled into the water. No problem. He took his drop in the rough, hit wedge to 18 feet and made one last putt to extend a streak of playing the final 45 holes without a bogey.
''No special number,'' he said of his goal to make 30 birdies. ''I made 19 birdies the first few days, so then I was thinking, 'Well, if I make 11 more, I can win.' So that was kind of my goal was to get to 30 birdies.''
He really didn't need any of them.
Matsuyama finished at 23-under 265, one short of the tournament record that Dustin Johnson set three years ago. He won by seven over British Open champion Henrik Stenson (65) and Daniel Berger (69).
One week after becoming the first Japanese player since Jumbo Ozaki in 1998 to reach the top 10 in the world, the victory moved Matsuyama up to No. 6.
There was one moment early in the round when it looked as though there would be a two-shot swing would have cut his deficit to two shots over Berger. Matsuyama made his 15-foot par putt on the par-3 fourth hole, hit his approach to 4 feet on the next hole for birdie and was on his way. Three straight birdies on the back nine, including a 9-iron out of the rough on the tough 15th that settled 3 feet away, turned this into a rout.
''I've never won by that many even in Japan,'' Matsuyama said.
It was the largest margin of victory in the HSBC Champions, and the largest in a WGC event since Tiger Woods won by seven in the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational.
He won for the 10th time in his career, and his third PGA Tour-sanctioned victory tied him with Shigeki Maruyama for most by a Japanese player. Matsuyama won the Memorial in 2014, and he won the Phoenix Open in February in a playoff over Rickie Fowler.
''Shigeki Maruyama is a good friend of mine, and he always said that I was going to pass his records,'' Matsuyama said. ''But at least I've tied him now. That was a great honor, because I have great respect for him.''
The next stop is a major. Y.E. Yang at the 2009 PGA Championship is the only Asian to win a men's major.
''Winning today I feel has got me closer to being able to compete a lot better in the major tournaments, and so my next goal is, of course, to win a major,'' he said. ''And I'm going to do all that I can to prepare well for that.''
In the last three weeks since he finished his best PGA Tour season with fifth place at the Tour Championship, Matsuyama won the Japan Open, was runner-up in Malaysia to Justin Thomas in the CIMB Classic, and then won his biggest tournament yet.
''Hideki played just unbelievable and it was a pleasure to watch. You can learn a lot from watching Hideki play,'' Berger said. ''He's struck it well. He's putted well. He's chipped well. He's done everything well, and that's why he's won by so many.''
Knox, playing in the final group for the second straight week, closed with a 74 and tied for ninth.
Rory McIlroy closed with a 66 to share fourth with Bill Haas (69). McIlroy said he would skip the Turkish Airlines Open next week, presumably because of security concerns over recent weeks, which makes him a long shot for the Race to Dubai on the European Tour.
Masters champion Danny Willett remains in front. Stenson's 20-foot birdie putt on the last hole gave him a share of second, which at least helped him close the gap. He also moved up one spot to No. 4, knocking Jordan Spieth down one notch.
Round 3 - Hideki Matsuyama maintains three shot lead
October 30, 2016
Hideki Matsuyama left the highlights to everyone else Saturday at the HSBC Champions.
All he cared about was keeping the lead.
In a third round that was dull by the standard Matsuyama had set for himself in making 19 birdies the opening two days at Sheshan International, the Japanese star picked up three of his birdies on the par 5s and rarely got out of position. Bogey-free for the first time all week, he was more than satisfied with a 4-under 68 to keep his three-shot lead going into the final round.
''The first two days, making lots of birdies, it's a lot of fun,'' Matsuyama said. ''But today, when you're in a position to win, playing smart and making no bogeys was very satisfying for me.''
Even more satisfying was that only four players were within five shots of his lead.
One of them was defending champion Russell Knox, who had far too much excitement in the middle of the back nine that kept his round together. Knox sandwiched birdies on a pair of tough par 4s around a par on one the third-easiest hole on the course, the par-5 14th. He hit into the water and was headed for a bogey when he made a long putt that kept his momentum and sent him to a 68 to stay three shots behind.
''After hitting in the water on 14, to make a massive putt for par was huge,'' Knox said. ''Those little moments are what add up in a tournament. Could have been a lot worse.''
Daniel Berger was another shot behind after quite the adventure over his final hour.
Berger ran off four straight birdies to get within two shots before taking bogey on the par-3 17th. Then he chose to go for the green on the par-5 closing hole, only to block it right into the water. He took his penalty drop, hit a full wedge into 5 feet and escaped with a par for a 67.
''That's what it's been like the last three days,'' Berger said about his scrambling. ''To make bogeys on the last two holes would not be nice going into tomorrow.''
Sunday might be no less daunting considering how Matsuyama has been playing - not just this week, but all month.
Matsuyama was at 17-under 199.
Francesco Molinari, who won the HSBC Champions in 2010, shot a 68 and joined Bill Haas (70) at 12-under 204.
Matsuyama finished fifth in the Tour Championship to cap off his most successful season on the PGA Tour, which includes his Phoenix Open playoff victory over Fowler at the start of the year. Two weeks ago, he won the Japan Open, then flew to Malaysia and was runner-up to Justin Thomas in the CIMB Classic.
Starting with his 10-birdie round of 66 to start the HSBC Champions, he has looked like the man to beat all week. No one got closer than two shots of Matsuyama in the third round, though the last hole was important to him. He hit driver down the right side of the fairway, along the edge of the lake, and then powered a 3-wood from 248 yards over the corner of the water to about 25 feet.
His eagle putt turned away at the end, leaving him a tap-in birdie that restored his lead to three shots.
Rory McIlroy tried to make a run and pulled off what he called one of the best short-game shots of his career for an unlikely birdie on the par-5 eighth. After sailing his 3-wood well right of the fairway on a thin patch of muddy grass, McIlroy faced a 50-yard shot over a creek with the pin on that side of the green. He hit a hard, low shot into the bank and it popped onto the green about 15 feet away, and he made the putt.
''One of the best up-and-downs of my career,'' he said.
That got him within four of the lead, but he began dropping too many shots to keep the momentum. McIlroy needed two late birdies to salvage a 37 on the back nine, and his 70 left him eight shots behind.
The shot of the day came from Matt Kuchar, minus the reward.
He made a hole-in-one on the par-3 17th, with a car perched behind the tee for whoever made an ace. Kuchar happened to read the fine print, however. Because the tee had been moved forward, there was a notice that the car would not be awarded Saturday because insurance only covered a tee shot of 200 yards.
''That was probably one of the saddest hole-in-ones I've ever had,'' Kuchar said. He shot 68 and was eight behind.
Matsuyama was quite happy to plod along with four birdies and no bogeys, and he wouldn't mind another day of that if it means becoming the first Japanese player to win a World Golf Championship.
''Everyone is so good. I know I'm going to have to make some birdies,'' he said. ''But I think the key for tomorrow's round will be not making any bogeys.''
Round 2 - Hideki Matsuyama moves three clear
October 28, 2016
Hideki Matsuyama arrived at the HSBC Champions as the first Japanese player in nearly two decades to reach the top 10 in the world ranking. His 19 birdies over 36 holes in biting chill and swirling wind helped explain how he got there.
Even as the weather shifted dramatically Friday at Sheshan International, Matsuyama kept piling up the birdies. One last birdie on the par-5 18th gave him a 7-under 65 and a three-shot lead going into the weekend of the final World Golf Championships event of the year.
''He is playing very well,'' said Rory McIlroy, who was six shots behind. ''And he'll be tough to catch.''
Matsuyama was at 13-under 131 and led by three shots over defending champion Russell Knox (68) and Bill Haas (67). He shouldn't have been surprised by the result because it was his eighth consecutive score in the 60s dating to the second round of the Tour Championship.
What made this one so satisfying were the conditions.
Rain the last two days gave way to a strong wind when Matsuyama was warming up, and the wind made the sharp dip of temperatures into the 50s feel even worse.
''I thought maybe just a couple under par would be a good score,'' Matsuyama said. ''So I'm really happy with how it ended up today. It was windy and cold. The ball, it's hard to control. It was tough out there today.''
It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who had a pair of double bogeys on the par 5s on his way to an 80. Kevin Kisner, a runner-up at the HSBC Champions last year, made a 9 on the final hole for an 80.
Fifteen players still managed to break 70 because of the rain-softened greens, and while Matsuyama's 65 was the best score of the second round, making it even more impressive was that he also had two bogeys. On Thursday, he had 10 birdies against four bogeys.
''Nineteen birdies ... that's really, really strong,'' Knox said.
Matsuyama already is having his biggest year since he began playing regularly round the world in 2014. He overcame a two-shot deficit over the last two holes and beat Rickie Fowler in the Phoenix Open. He had another top 10 in the Masters. And while he went into a summer lull of poor putting - Matsuyama missed the cut in the U.S. Open and British Open - the 24-year-old returned to form at the PGA Championship with his best finish in a major (tie for fourth) and has been steady ever since.
Two weeks ago, he won the Japan Open for his ninth victory worldwide. He was runner-up to Justin Thomas in Malaysia last week, pushing his PGA Tour earnings for the year to over $4.6 million and moving him to No. 10.
The last Japanese player in the top 10 was Jumbo Ozaki during the week of the 1998 Masters.
A better attitude has helped this week, too. Matsuyama doesn't have much of a record in the World Golf Championships, with his only top 10 at the Dell Match Play a year ago in San Francisco when he reached the quarterfinals, only to be blown out by McIlroy.
In three previous appearances at the HSBC Champions, he withdrew twice and tied for 41st.
''I haven't really played well here before,'' he said. ''So before coming here, I was a little bit nervous again thinking, 'Well, maybe it's not going to be a good week for me.' But then I decided, 'Let's just have fun this week.' It's made a difference.''
It didn't look like much fun on Friday, particularly the final hour when the temperature dropped and a light rain fell.
''This felt like a cold day at Pebble Beach,'' said Daniel Berger, who had a 70 and was in the group five shots behind.
McIlroy thrived, too, and at least got back into the mix going into the weekend at Sheshan. He figured a 66 would do the trick, and it might have felt even better if Matsuyama had not gone one better in the second round.
McIlroy's only blemish came at the reachable par-4 16th, when his tee shot was just right of the green and in a hazard. He found the ball in the bushes and thought for the longest time about playing it, constantly rehearsing a swing to see if the branches would allow him to make contact.
A wiser head (and advice from his caddie) prevailed, McIlroy took a penalty drop and got out with a bogey. He made up for it with a birdie on the final hole for a 66 that at least has him range, though much depends on Matsuyama.
''There's definitely some rust in the 71 yesterday. I feel like I've shaken most of that off,'' McIlroy said. ''It should be a good weekend. I'm just happy to be in the mix.''
Round 1 - Rickie Fowler one off lead
October 28, 2016
The publicity posters plastered all over Shanghai for the WGC-HSBC Champions portray Rickie Fowler as a superhero "Eagle Eye", and the US Ryder Cup star lived up to his billing Thursday.
Sporting a new mohawk haircut under his trademark broad-peaked cap, the 27-year-old US Ryder Cup star proved a cut above all but one player as he fired a blemish-free seven-under-par 65 to lie one shot off the lead at Sheshan International Golf Club.
Sweden's Rikard Karlberg leads on eight-under after a damp first round of the $9.5 million event dubbed "Asia's Major", where Rory McIlroy's putter proved as cool as the conditions.
The FedEx Cup champion and world number three carded a steady one-under 71 with just two birdies and a solitary bogey.
"I feel I hit the ball well," said McIlroy, who was solid from tee to green but just could not hole a putt of any length.
"Greens are soft and obviously there's a lot of footprints. I feel I did everything okay. I just didn't really get any momentum going," he added.
McIlroy wasn't alone among the favourites to struggle. World number two and US Open champion Dustin Johnson toiled to a two-over 74, as did Masters champion Danny Willett. US PGA Champion Jimmy Walker had a day to forget with a six-over 78.
There were no such woes for the well-travelled Fowler, whose last tournament win came in Abu Dhabi in January and who has also recorded victories in South Korea and Scotland.
Having started on the 10th, the colourful American was three-under when he left himself short of the green at the treacherous par-three 17th.
But he made the chip look ridiculously easy for his birdie and almost holed another chip at 18 leading to a tap-in birdie. Eagle Eye indeed.
"Yeah, I was trying to have a superhero performance today," Fowler told AFP.
Fowler was playing with Russell Knox (66) and Paul Casey (65) in a three-ball that ripped round Sheshan with a combined score of 18-under par.
"Both of those guys have been playing well," said Fowler. "We enjoyed each other's presence, fed off each other a bit. I don't think there's a threesome that beat us today."
Knox pulled off a massive Shanghai surprise a year ago by recording his maiden PGA Tour win. The Scot carried on where he left off with the highlight being four birdies in a row from the 14th to the 17th having started his round on the 10th.
"When you're playing with Rickie Fowler, nobody cares if I'm defending champion. So that always takes a little pressure off," said Knox with a wry smile. He shares third place with American Daniel Berger and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama.
Meanwhile Karlberg, a former Asian Tour rookie of the year, showed no nerves in his first WGC event appearance as he galloped away from a field containing 40 of the world's top 50 players.
A birdie at the 16th took the world number 87 to nine under par but his tee shot at the short 17th disappeared down a steep bank needing a great chip from thick rough to save par.
But when a second errant tee shot in a row found a fairway bunker on the par-five 18th it led to his only bogey of the day.
"I just had a couple of uncommitted shots at the end," said Karlberg. "On 18 my drive didn't fade and I ended up in the bunker. Apart from that everything was easy, a walk in the park, just one of those days."